Last weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets brand new head coach Mike Babcock resigned amid an NHL Players Association investigation into allegations of misconduct.
Babcock left the team after it came to light he asked players to show him photos on their personal phones, breaching player privacy.
According to ex-NHLer and podcaster Paul Bissonnette, Babcock met with players, one by one, asking each: “Let me see the photos in your phone. I want to see the kind of person you are.”
Babcock’s history is peppered with alleged questionable coaching techniques, including while at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This isn’t the first time Babcock has faced mistreatment allegations.
Following his exit from Toronto in 2019, it was widely reported that Babcock instructed Mitch Marner to rank his teammates from most hardworking to least hardworking, then the coach shared those rankings with the team.
The allegations against Babcock suggest that not only was toxicity in the workplace tolerated but it was perpetuated time and again.
The NHL should work like any normal workplace that, if managed correctly, flags conduct that could reach the threshold of bullying or harassment.
Alas, the NHL is not a normal workplace whatsoever. It is hyper competitive and results driven. It is supremely demanding physically and psychologically. When subjected to mistreatment, players face the stark reality of unemployment if they speak up instead of keeping mum.
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The fact that players indeed raised conduct complaints following Babcock’s Toronto departure places into question how the NHL, just four years later, welcomed him back into the fold absent an investigation into the troubling allegations he left behind in Toronto.
While Babcock’s style may have been tolerated or even warmly received in a previous era, his alleged conduct not only warrants an investigation but in most provinces is legally required.
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requires all employers to develop policy and implement programs to eliminate violence and bullying in the workplace. Workplace harassment can include offensive remarks that are embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning to a worker or group. It could also include a course of conduct or remarks that are intimidating.
The Act also explicitly recognizes “psychological harassment” as a form of workplace harassment; the very form of harassment Babcock was accused of engaging in by multiple sources.
The law in Ontario requires that workers must know how to report incidents and how the incident will be investigated. It also requires that the investigation outcomes are reported to the person who made the complaint.
Babcock’s resignation should not deter the league from completing its investigation into his conduct. Some would argue the investigation is legally required to carry on. Those players that registered complaints are legally entitled to an investigation that is run to completion and that reasonable outcomes are implemented.
Resignations fail to impose consequences. They often absolve bad actors from accountability, allowing them to move on to new employment with an unblemished record.
Even with Babcock in the rearview mirror, the league should finish what it started.
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